Thai Cuisine - The Spice of Life

Trip Start Jul 20, 2006
Trip End May 10, 2007

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Flag of Thailand  ,
Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Spainards love their Olive Oil. Italians love their wine. Ticos love their Beans. And, Thai's REALLY LOVE their Chili's!

Thai food is more unique, coloruful, and flavorful than any other countries cuisine I have ever tasted. For starters, I never really know what I am getting and I am mostly at the mercy of those I am dining with. I have resorted to a few methods of food choice. The first being the, "I'll have whatever you're having" method. The second being the, "point-and-choose" method, which quickly becomes impossible if there are no pictures on the menu, like at Denny's, or no food on display. (Which is funny because my general rule of thumb at home is to never eat at a restaurant with pictures on the menu!) Then there is the "whatever you think I'll like" method. Lastly there is the "whatever the group is eating" option. This choice is both the best and the worst of the aforementioned options. It is the best because you can sample a variety of foods, since eating here is "Family Style" as we call it in Chinese restaurants throughout America. The reason why this is worst option is strictly for sanitary reasons. People eat off their utensils and then use the same utensil to get more food from the communal dish.

Sanitary, or clean eating options are questionable. I was eating dinner at the mall with my friend Saiaew and as we picked up our food from the self-serve counter, I looked around in wonderment for the utensils. Then, I watched as Saiaew took silverware from a drawer and dipped it inside a bucket of warm water. I followed suit and asked her, what she was doing. "I'm cleaning the spoon," she excalimed.

Just the other night, I walked along Suthep road scanning the food stalls for dinner, as I noticed a man crouching on the side walk cleaning dishes. From one bucket of water filled with suds, to another without, straight into the hands of the woman serving pad thai. There is no way that is clean, I thought, Oh well, the pad thai looked good!

Bringing me to the concept of outdoor cooking. Not all, but mostly all, kitchens in Thailand are outside. I gather there are a few reasons for this. For starters, it is a tropical climate thus being hot and humid and cooking inside over a fire would be an uncomfortable situation. I've been told another reason for the outdoor cooking is because the King's men, thousands of years ago, had to watch the food being prepared so that no one would poison the king, and has thus evolved into an outdoor cooking society.

Roadside food stalls have not only the cheapest but tastiest food options, and also make for great al-fresco dining. However, creates some sanitary concerns for me. If the California Department of Health were to get a hold of this city, I am sad to say, that they would earn below average grades, with a 'C' being the highest. Maybe it is all that should not be in the food, which makes it so good?!

I have almost become accustomed to eating with my spoon and cutting with my fork, yes that is the way they do it here, and I look stupid when I eat with my fork. To them it is the equivalent of me eating with my knife back at home.

My first Thai food experience was almost silly. It was as if I was resorting to eating McDonald's in a foreign country. I ordered Pad Thai and was surprised when it arrived and it tasted much like it does back home. But, once I ventured out of my comfort zone, I learned that Thai food is spicy... and I mean some dishes are beyond comprehension spicy. The other morning I was eating Kow Soi (a noodle dish) and my eyes began to tear and my lips felt as if they were aflame, I coughed and gagged, as the chili's infested my taste buds. Thai's are very quick to tell you that it is not that spicy ("mae pet" they say) but to them, it is not. They have been eating this shit for hundreds of years. They put chili's, whether it be whole chilis, chili powder, paste, or oil, in everything, and think that somehow by adding a dash of sugar it will cut the spice. My taste buds however have been repetitively burned and my eyes have swelled with tears numerous times. Sometimes I even sweat when I'm eatting, which I thought was something that only happened to fat men.

The food here is great, the portions small, and my American appetite atrocious. Sometimes when my dish is served, I feel as if I am eating at a Fancy French Bistro where a slice of a filet steak is served with a side dish of two carrots and one bite-size potato for $100. But, here, it is maybe 20 baht which is less than 50 cents.

At publication time, my food options have improved, as well as my Thai language capabilities. Knowing the food basics in Thai has helped tremendously as I can now at least ask for noodles or rice, what meat I want, and what veggies I want too. I also know how to say not too spicy, though my taste buds are becoming a bit more accustomed to Thai food... I think my mouth suffered from a greater state of culture shock that I!
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